Thursday, November 17, 2011

Prop 8 Ruling: Conservatives have standing to sue, case proceeds to 9th Circuit Court

The California Supreme Court has ruled that “Protect Marriage,” a conservative citizens group, has the legal right to defend California’s Proposition 8 in court. This means that the controversial ballot question, which banned same-sex marriage in California, will now be heard by the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The State of California had recognized same-sex marriage, but conservative citizens petitioned to have the issue put before voters. The ballot question, called “Prop 8,” was approved, which then ended same-sex marriage in California. Gay rights groups appealed the ballot initiative, and a Federal Court Judge declared that Prop 8 was Unconstitutional. In that suit, the “defendant” was the State of California, since it was the State that was defending its own laws in federal court. When the State lost, it chose not to appeal the decision, which would have normally meant the end of Prop 8 and a re-recognition of same-sex marriage.

However, conservative citizen groups were outraged that the State was not defending its law on appeal, and stepped in and filed an appeal at the 9th Circuit Court. The Circuit Court was unclear as to whether the group had “standing to sue,’ ie, if they had the right to appeal the law.

The issue of standing is a very narrow question of deciding “who” has the right to sue in court. If Jack and Jill have a contract concerning carrying a bucket of water, and Jack refuses to carry out his part of the deal, then all courts agree that Jill has the right to sue Jack. The question in this case, however, is whether someone who is not a party to the original case can also: can Jill’s best friend Sally sue Jack because of the injury suffered by Jill, if Jill chooses not to sue…especially if Sally believes it will affect her? In essence, that is the question the court needed to decide. The Federal Court then asked the California State for guidance on this issue.

In the end, the California Supreme Court (a state court) ruled that the conservative citizens group does in fact have standing to sue, which means that the appeal will now continue at the 9th Circuit (the federal court).

It also means that the issue as to whether or not same-sex marriage is a federal Constitutional Right – or not – will probably reach U S Supreme Court level in the not-too-distant future.

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